Finishing fourth

Olympics: Come forth, the nearly winners

To see years of toil finally come to fruition in triumph is a beautiful thing. For that to come on the grandest stage of all is sweet reward.

At the Olympics, there is one place that hurts athletes. Fourth.

Fourth means not a loser, but also most definitely not a winner.

Fourth is, for many, a sore and painful reminder that one came close but fell just short. Good - just not quite good enough.

Fourth-place finishers are often the ones who weep in solitude, while others tear up with emotion on the podium.

Of the 812 golds, 812 silvers and 864 bronzes prepared at the Rio Olympics, no medals will reward those who came fourth, for they are the oft-forgotten.

What is it like to just miss out on Olympic glory?

The Straits Times remembers four who came fourth in Rio.


'When will we have another Olympics at home? I wanted to win for my people'

  • TALITA ROCHA/ LARISSA FRANCA, BRAZIL BEACH VOLLEYBALLERS

    WOMEN'S BRONZE PLAY-OFF

    Lost 21-17, 17-21, 9-15 to Kerri Walsh Jennings/April Ross (USA)

    Missed an Olympic medal by

    6pts

They were not the main event of the night. Their compatriots - Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas - playing in the gold-medal match that followed, were.

But backed by a partisan 12,000-strong crowd in the stands on Copacabana beach, it felt like Talita Rocha and Larissa Franca were going for gold.

Taking the first set 21-17, the Brazilian duo had looked on course to hand defeat to Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross, but fizzled out after a strong comeback from their formidable American counterparts.

A loss in front of their home crowd was tough to take, but more so since it was likely the last Olympic match of both players' careers. Both are well into their 30s and are competing at their third straight Games.

Franca, who has a bronze from 2012 with another partner, took the loss in her stride.

Said the 34-year-old: "I have an Olympic medal and I know what it represents. (But) the Olympics are not the only tournament in the world. It's just one, and we play many tournaments. We don't have time to be unhappy about this."

But Rocha, who also finished fourth in the Beijing Games, found defeat harder to swallow.

She said: "In this moment I have no words to describe how I feel.

"This doesn't mean that I haven't tried. I tried - in every moment. I'm happy because this was an amazing experience, but it's also painful because I didn't get the medal.

"Losing at home is a bad feeling. It's such a special moment to be playing at home. When will we have another Olympics at home? I wanted to win for them, for my people."


'It's great. We didn't really lose anything.'

  • JAPAN ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS WOMEN'S TEAM

    TEAM FINAL

    Bronze: 176.003

    4th: 174.371

    Missed an Olympic medal by

    1.632

Third on the all-time list of Olympic medals won in artistic gymnastics, Japan is no minnow in the discipline. But of the 97 medals won - 30 of them gold - just a lone bronze has come from the women's team event.

If Asuka Teramoto and Co had somersaulted themselves to the podium this time, it would have been Japan's first medal in this event in 52 years.

Having lived in the shadow of their more illustrious male team-mates, it would also have gone a long way in giving the women their time in the limelight.

Competing in a field that featured the American all-star team and Russia's Aliya Mustafina, the Japanese needed the performance of a lifetime to put themselves within podium contention.

There were creditable scores of 44.832 on the vault and 44.466 on the uneven bars, but the team were undone by lower scores on the balance beam and floor exercise.

But to the Japanese, this was not a sub-par performance. Said Teramoto, a two-time Olympian and the most senior member of the team: "Our level is probably lower than what everyone saw today."

The team were fifth at the World Championships last year and eighth at the 2012 London Olympics.

Beaming after the competition, the gymnast insisted this was not failure.

"Before the Olympics, it felt like there was only a 20 per cent chance of us getting this close," said Teramoto. "We didn't really imagine it would be possible, so we're very happy with what we did. Japan hasn't achieved this (for a long time).

"To be fourth is great for us. We didn't really lose anything."


'It's harder than you'll ever know'

  • CHAD LE CLOS, SOUTH AFRICAN SWIMMER

    MEN'S 200M BUTTERFLY

    Bronze: 1:53.62

    4th: 1:54.06

    Missed an Olympic medal by

    0.44

Fourth place stung for Chad le Clos. Not only did he fail to retain his 2012 title, he went from Olympic champion in the 200m butterfly to nothing.

In London, the South African was the pool sensation who pipped Michael Phelps to gold in the American's signature race, taking victory by 0.05 sec to deny Phelps his third straight Olympic title in this event.

But he will now be remembered for the iconic mid-race image, stealing a look at Phelps while the eventual champion surged ahead. The highly anticipated rematch between Phelps and le Clos turned out to be a non-contest.

The result was a big blow to the South African, who admitted he was stuck in a low in the following days but would not elaborate beyond "mistakes" he made.

He said: "It's not so much fourth place at the Olympics. It's how I lost. It's harder than you'll ever know. I was pretty much devastated after that race, and it took a lot to pick myself up and get that 100m fly."

He would later tie Phelps and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh for silver in the 100m butterfly, won by Singapore's Joseph Schooling.

Added le Clos: "In many ways, that silver was a gold to me. (Even) a bronze would probably have been a gold."

But no defeat could have compared to the tests he has faced this year. He revealed weeks before the Rio Games that both his parents are battling cancer.

He said: "I was in such a low after that race, but I've had a lot of hardships in my life and that wasn't even the 10th baddest thing that's happened to me this year. It is what it is."


'Unfortunately, it was me this time. Twice'

  • PATRICK HAUSDING, GERMAN DIVER

    MEN'S SYNCHRONISED 10M PLATFORM

    Bronze: 444.45

    4th: 438.42

    Missed an Olympic medal by

    6.03

    MEN'S SYNCHRONISED 3M SPRINGBOARD

    Bronze: 443.70

    4th: 410.10

    Missed an Olympic medal by

    33.6

Patrick Hausding knows what the dizzying highs of winning an Olympic medal feel like. Just 19 and in his first season on the senior team at the 2008 Beijing Games, he clinched an unexpected silver with partner Sascha Klein in the men's 10m synchronised platform.

But the 27-year-old is also well-acquainted with the crushing feeling of finishing fourth.

He was fourth in London - in the 3m springboard - and found himself shut out of the podium with partner Stephan Feck not once, but twice in Rio.

Said the 2013 10m synchronised platform world champion (with Klein): "We knew our rivals in the synchronised 3m springboard were very strong so it didn't feel that bad. Finishing fourth in the 10m platform this time was really sad for me.

"It's painful. There always has to be a fourth place and unfortunately, it was me this time. Twice."

But two fourth-place finishes achieved with a painful shoulder injury have helped Hausding find satisfaction in the results.

He said: "To see it from a positive side, I'm fourth in the world, the fourth-best athlete in my sport at the Olympics. A sports career is really long and it's already an achievement to stay at this level for many years.

"Time goes on, and I'm going to live, I'm not dying."

Hausding is the only male diver at these Games to enter more than two events. It was a decision that paid off.

In the 3m springboard, Hausding's third and final event, he won bronze.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2016, with the headline 'Come forth, the nearly winners'. Print Edition | Subscribe